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P3645 Archive, underwear manufacture, Berlei Limited, Australia / England / New Zealand, 1912-1970. Click to enlarge.

Berlei Limited Archive - Underwear Design and Manufacture

This archive is an important record of the Australian founded underwear manufacturer, Berlei Ltd, from its inception right up until it was acquired by Dunlop Australia Ltd in 1969 and soon after, the Hestia Company Ltd. Berlei was a highly successful Australian international company that manufactured bras, corsets, underwear, medical support garments, girdles and suspender belts. While playing a major role in producing women's underwear that fitted the shape of the female body (and undertaking …


Object No.


Object Statement

Archive, underwear manufacture, Berlei Limited, Australia / England / New Zealand, 1912-1970

Physical Description

Archive, underwear manufacture, Berlei Limited, Australia / England / New Zealand, 1912-1970

Includes annual reports, 1924-1969, conference agenda, speeches and reports, 1953-1961, reports and reviews, 1916-1961, legal and official documents, 1927-1969, 'Berlei Review', 1922-1955, 'Between ourselves at Berlei', 1947-1952, 'Staff Guide to Berlei', n.d., financial records, 1912-1969, sales and fitting manuals and leaflets, papers re anthropometrical survey, 1926-27, Design and Research Department files, 1940-1966, material re Berlei Type Indicator, photographs and other papers re Berlei Golden Jubilee, 1960 and books and pamphlets re underwear not published by Berlei, 1924-1957.



On 25 August 1910 Frederick Richard Burley (1885-1954), with financial support from his family, bought a controlling interest in E. Gover & Co, a small women's undergarment firm in Market Street, Sydney. During 1911 a decision was also made to enter into the wholesale trade. On 1 July 1912 Fred Burley's brother, Frank Arthur Burley (1881-1957), joined the firm and the wholesale section was formed into a separate company, Unique Corsets Ltd, which had a nominal capital of 10,000 pounds and paid up capital of 2,500 pounds. The first meeting of the company was held in October 1912.

Unique Corsets Ltd rented the top floor in a building in Wilmot Street and employed 12 people. In its first four months the company generated sales of 1,605 pounds and its output was only limited by the number of trained machinists it could employ. Total sales for the first 12 months were 10,500 pounds. In 1913 Fred Burley made a study tour to Europe and the United States of America to view latest developments in the industry. In 1915 Mary Craven, formerly manageress of her father's undergarment factory, joined the company as Designer and soon afterwards was sent overseas on study tour. This was part of a considered strategy to bring senior management up-to-date with industry trends and advances. The business continued to grow and another floor was rented in the Wilmot Street building. By 1917 staff numbers had grown to 60 and new premises were occupied in the Commerce Buildings, Liverpool Street, Sydney. In that year Fred and Arthur Burley jointly coined the trade mark name 'Berlei'. By 1918 200 staff worked for the company and capital was increased to 15,400 pounds.

On 9 October 1919 Unique Corsets Ltd formally changed its name to Berlei Ltd as the brand name was now well established in the public mind. Berlei Ltd was registered as a public company in October 1920. In 1920 the company also purchased W. Zander & Co, a corset manufacturer, which took total staff numbers to 280. The company was re-floated with authorised capital of 250,000 pounds. On 1 January 1922 Berlei House, a seven storey office and factory at 39-47 Regent Street, Sydney was opened. Daily output soon rose to 2,500 garments and staff numbered 500. Dr Grace Boelke was appointed Medical Superintendent to ensure that Berlei garments were 'anatomically correct' and to act as medical officer for the factory. The company was also known for its enlightened approach to industrial relations influenced by the Burley brother's commitment to community service.

During 1922 Fred Burley prepared a business policy and stated his ideals for the company: "To Design and Manufacture Corsets and Brassieres of such perfect Fit, Quality, and Workmanship, as will bring pleasure and profit to all concerned, while at the same time rendering such excellent service to our Clients and Consumers as will merit their permanent patronage." In 1923 Berlei took over one of its main competitors, Australian Corsets Ltd. On 27 November 1923 it also established Berlei New Zealand Ltd in Auckland. Equipment was shipped from Australia and senior staff members were sent to New Zealand to provide technical expertise in the establishment of the business. Berlei New Zealand Ltd remained a subsidiary of Berlei Ltd from its inception until 1929 when the holding company reduced its share holding and the New Zealand company entered into an "association" with its Australian counterpart. While Auckland remained the headquarters for Berlei New Zealand Ltd, a number of smaller plants were also opened in other parts of the country.

Branch offices were opened in Melbourne (1921), Brisbane (1923), Adelaide (1929) and Perth (1929), and a factory was opened in Melbourne in 1927. Training courses for retail corsetieres were begun by the company in 1923 and during 1924 and 1925 Berlei promoted its products through what it termed "artistic public demonstrations" in some of Australia's larger theatres and in department stores. The company was listed on the Stock Exchange in 1926.

For many years Fred Burley had been concerned that women's underwear should be designed to fit the shape of the female body rather than to match clothing conventions of the time. In 1926 in collaboration with physiologists in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney led by Professor Henry Chapman and Dr S A Smith Berlei undertook an anthropometric study of 6,000 Australian women. It was termed the National Census of Women's Measurements and cost 10,000 pounds. Twenty three different measurements were taken from each woman, tabulated and the results analysed. This led to the development of the Berlei five figure type classification scheme - Sway Back, Hip, Average, Abdomen, and Short Below Waist - and the "figure type indicator". This indicator device was sent out to retailers who would take the customer's exact measurements and then use them to classify the woman's figure for product selection.

On 5 January 1930 Berlei UK Ltd was founded as a subsidiary of Berlei Ltd and registered as a public company on 10 February 1930. Its head office was in Regent St, London, and it rented a factory near Slough. Fred Burley was a director of the company from its inception, moving to England with his family in 1932 and becoming Governing Director of the Berlei group. Arthur Burley was made Managing Director of Berlei Ltd in Australia. Mary Craven, who had been the company's Head Designer, was transferred to England where she served as Managing Director until 1935. In that year Berlei UK Ltd became the European agents for Berlei Ltd Australia and Berlei New Zealand Ltd, providing it with an additional source of revenue. However it took ten years from the time of its establishment before Berlei UK Ltd made a profit and Fred Burley was ultimately to remain in England for 15 years. In 1936 Berlei UK Ltd commissioned the architect Sir John Brown to design and build a factory and new head office just outside Slough. Designed in the International Modern style, the building was considered to be one of the finest buildings of its time.

During the 1930s Berlei developed its export market. Apart from exporting to the United Kingdom and Europe, it also sold its products in South Africa, the Middle East, the East Indies and South America. It also entered into agreements to manufacture and sell leading overseas brands in Australia. One of these agreements concerned Warner Brothers's "Le Gant" foundations. In association with Hedley Jarrett, who had obtained the rights for Warner Brother's products in Australia, Berlei formed Warner's "Le Gant" Pty Ltd. Subsequently Jarrett was killed during World War II while on active service with the Royal Australian Air Force and Berlei bought the balance of the shares from his estate.

Throughout World War II Berlei continued manufacturing its most popular lines as well as a range of functional undergarments for members of the armed forces. It also manufactured other items including khaki shorts.

Fred Burley returned to Australia in 1947 and from then on both brothers gradually withdrew from active day-to-day management of the company. In 1948 Arthur Burley resigned as Managing Director and in January 1949 Fred Burley also announced his retirement. John G Hurley and Harry W Arthy became joint managing directors of the company. Fred and Arthur Burley both maintained positions on the Board of Directors with Fred being made Chairman in July 1950 and Arthur Vice-Chairman. Fred Burley died in 1954. Arthur Burley who succeeded his brother as Chairman of Directors, died in 1957.

On 19 December 1951 shares in Berlei New Zealand Ltd were transferred to a holding company, Berlei Industries Ltd. In 1957 Berlei Ltd was restructured with the establishment of a holding company, Berlei United Ltd (Australia), which was separated from the company's manufacturing and trading operations. This enabled the directors to concentrate on expanding the company internationally. Berlei Ltd carried on as the main Australian subsidiary.

In mid 1966 tragedy struck when Keith Burley, Joint Manager Director of Berlei (UK) Ltd, and Rex Moore, Managing Director of Berlei New Zealand, were killed in a car crash in England. The loss of these two senior executives had a significant impact on the operations of the group.

In 1969 Dunlop Olympic Limited acquired all the issued capital of Berlei. The Australian and New Zealand assets of Berlei were sold to the Hestia Company Ltd and the name of the company was changed to Berlei Hestia Limited. In 1986 Dunlop Olympic Limited became Pacific Dunlop Ltd and established a division known as Pacific Brands. In the same year Berlei was incorporated within Pacific Brands. In 1985 Berlei UK Ltd went into receivership and was purchased by Gossard Ltd, part of Courtaulds Textiles.

P3645-1 Berlei Ltd Annual Reports; P3645-10 "Berlei Review"; P3645-12 "Staff Guide to Berlei"; P3645-34/1
Personal communications to Paul Wilson from members of the Burley family, 15 & 16 April 2008
"Boelke, Grace Fairley (1870 - 1948)" [Accessed: 23 January 2008]
"Burley, Frank Arthur (1881 - 1957)" [Accessed: 22 January 2008]
"Burley, Frederick Richard (1885 - 1954)" [Accessed: 22 January 2008]
"History of the Berlei Group - Time Line" [Accessed: 22 January 2008]
"History of the Berlei Group - Fred Burley" [Accessed: 22 January 2008]"
Berlei Limited" in Pratt, Ambrose, ed. "The National Handbook of Australia's Industries", Melbourne: The Speciality Press Ltd, 1934: 173-4



Collection received as a gift of Berlei Hestia Industries Ltd in 1984.


Credit Line

Gift of Berlei Hestia Industries Ltd, 1984

Acquisition Date

22 November 1984

Cite this Object


Berlei Limited Archive - Underwear Design and Manufacture 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 7 December 2021, <>


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